Grace and Frankie Use the “M” Word.

For those without Netflix, Grace and Frankie is into its third season as a comedy about couples in their seventies. (Warning: this post includes “spoilers,” but I don’t think they will take away from any of your enjoyment of the series.)

Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and Grace (Jane Fonda) are two very different women in their 70s living together at a beach house which they used to share when they were married to their husbands (who have come out as gay).

I will get to the “M” word eventually, but first I want to comment on the beautifully developed elder characters that the two actresses portray. They are feisty, quirky, impatient, forgetful, caring, independent, irreverent, maternal, and forgiving. They are the Golden Girls for this oldest generation of the 21st Century.

While very few women in their 70s are as wrinkle- and cellulite- free as Fonda (who looks and dresses like a model in a Neiman Marcus ad), she is believable as a traditional retired businesswoman. Tomlin, with graying hair, a few wrinkles, and outfits that must come from the Gudrun catalog, is an ex-hippie artist – about as opposite from her housemate as possible.

Sally Field & Penelope Wilton

There is a part of me that would rather have had someone play Grace who is less physically “reconfigured” than Fonda – like maybe Sally Field or Penelope Wilton, who, although not yet in their 70s allow themselves to realistically portray elder women wrinkles and all.

However, Fonda has won me over, despite her almost flawless skin and size 2 body. She and Tomlin play off each other with excellent timing and consistent characterization.

Frankie smokes weed and gets Grace to admit she MASTURBATES. Yes, that’s the “M” word that brings the women together to invent and produce a vibrator for elder women, whose arthritis often impedes their pleasure.

Grace and Frankie hilariously find ways to deal with just about all of the emotional and physical challenges faced by women over 70. There are three seasons available on Netflix, and it’s the only contemporary series I have found that is appealingly honest and charmingly irreverent about life in its last quarter.

Sheen and Waterston

While I am focusing on the female characters, they are given a run for their money by their gay ex-husbands (a sweet, believable, and delightful pairing of Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen).

We need to insist that Grace and Frankie start a trend of movies and series about elder women.

Kate Burton in “Grimm”

After watching the last episode of Grimm, in which the eldest female of the Grimm family (played by Kate Burton) pulls a sword from her cane and lops off a piece of the monster, I am rooting for a character like that in a new fantasy series.

The Crone’s time has come.

I have a problem with violent computer games

Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
No one can hear with beans in their ears.
After a while the reason appears.
They did it cause we said no.

(from The Fantasticks)

Like most folks over the age of 50, I have a problem with violent computer games, such as “Grand Theft Auto.” I’ve never played any of them, but, like many young folks, my 13 year old grandson does.

gtaOn one occasion, I look over his shoulder as his avatar – a strong, white, adult male, – climbs into his Super Sport Bugatti and sets off on a heist. The bank robbery hits a snag and he and his partner have to shoot their way out, killing the security guard. He makes it back to his virtual apartment with the designated “payout” stashed in his virtual account. He will use those earnings to buy more cars. Or maybe a helicopter or a yacht, depending on how wealthy he becomes. The graphics in this virtual world are realistic and compelling, a quantum leap in design and process from the “Space Invaders” arcade game of my generation.

“Hmpf.” I say to him. “I don’t like these killing games.”

“Grammy,” he says, with a patience that belies his age. “It’s like playing a part in a movie script. It’s fantasy. I know the difference.”

I know, and his parents know, that if he is forbidden to play, he might find a way to do it anyway, and the stress it would put on family relationships would not be worth it. The answer to this dilemma is not for the adults to say “No,” but rather to try to understand what this gaming culture is all about and how to ensure that the young players don’t internalize a wrong message.

For my home schooled grandson, well versed in morality and ethics, his gaming goal is not to kill anyone but to complete the assignment (although characters can get killed along the way). Granted, there are other gamers who get delight in escalating the violence just to see what they can get away with. That’s what I have a problem with out of a concern that they will become inured to the horrors of violence and start confusing fantasy with reality. Hundreds of contradicting studies have been done – and continue to be done – that both affirm and deny the ill effects of playing violent computer games.

The culture of my family is to try to understand where the other person is coming from before any decision is made, so my grandson has explained to his parents his approach to gaming and they have shared their concerns. It reminds me of when my 10 year old son became obsessed with comics during the time in the 1980s when many of the publications began to use illustrations with hyper-sexualized female superhero bodies. I remember having a long talk with him, expressing my feminist disapproval of such depictions of women and reminding him that it’s all fantasy.

I have embarked on a long learning curve that involves my grandson explaining how the game works, which is a complex process, on the part of the gamers, that involves planning, coordinating, and cooperating in setting up each heist. While the game program itself establishes parameters, the gamers make specific choices and have to deal with the consequences.

There are other modules that are available for GTA, my grandson tells me. His favorites are the ones in which his character is a fireman or policeman or emergency medical technician. While the scenarios for those modules can include violence, it is always because the protagonist is trying to rescue someone.

What I am learning gives me a more informed appreciation and understanding of why my otherwise non-violent teenage grandson likes to play “Grant Theft Auto.” And the conversations continue.

I see that what he is taking away from playing these games is so much more than I would have ever considered. For example, he has to budget and manage his virtual money so that he can afford to buy the new luxury items that he wants. In the process of researching cars, he has developed a knowledge of automobiles – both ordinary and classic – that is encyclopedic. He experiments with designing the appearance of his cars, playing with colors and shapes. He has forged online friendships with other players his age from around the world as they work together to develop strategies for their heists. He is honing his reading skills as he keeps up to date on understanding the evolving rules and improvements in the game.

Because he was not told “No” and instead was invited to share his gaming experiences with the family, the problem other families might have with the issue of violent computer games is not a problem for us — although I still really don’t like them. It’s probably a generational thing, as it often is with music, fashion, language, and etiquette. But I learn to appreciate it all. Like Walt Whitman, “I contain multitudes.”

Mother’s Day: for my kids

(I started posing this on Mother’s Day ten years ago, and I try to remember to re-post it every year.)

Some women take to mothering naturally. I had to work at it. And so I wasn’t the best mother in the world. I would have worked outside the home whether I had become a single mom or not. And because I did, mine were latchkey kids, with my daughter, beginning at age 12, taking care of her younger brother, age 5, after school. I left them some evenings to go out on dates. Oh, I did cook them healthy meals, and even cookies sometimes. I made their Halloween costumes and went to all parent events at their schools. My daughter took ballet lessons, belonged to 4H (but I got kicked out as Assistant Leader because I wouldn’t salute the flag during the Vietnam War). I made my son a Dr. Who scarf and took him to Dr. Who fan events. I bought him lots of comic books, invited friends over to play, and taught him how to throw a ball.

But most of all, I think/hope I did for them what my mother was never able to do for me, — give them the freedom and encouragement to become who they wanted to be — to explore, make mistakes, and search for their bliss. I think/hope that I always let them know that, as far as I was concerned, I loved them just the way they were/are.

Not having had that affirmation from my mother still affects my relationship with her. I hope that my doing that right for them neutralizes all the wrong things I did as they were growing up.

So, you two (now adult) kids, here’s to you both. You keep me thinking, you keep me informed, you keep me honest, and, in many ways, you keep me vital. I’m so glad that I’m your mother.

So, in memory of those not-always-good ol’ days that you two somehow managed to survive with style, here you are, playing “air guitar and drums” — enjoying each other’s company sometime in the late 70s and bringing so much delight into my life.

airguitar

Vigil Eve

I am no longer with my extended family for the holidays. Our life’s lessons have brought us to different places, literally and metaphorically. But there was an important time that we shared, and I celebrate those times of endearing family gatherings, before our realities diverged and they developed a need to pray for me.

And so I post these, remembering my extended family with nostalgia and also with an appreciation for even the tenuous connections that still exist.

They pray. I write.

Vigil Eve (“Wigilia’ 1950)

There was no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.

The men earned hard money, revered their vodka.
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest was woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve drew near
the men disappeared into their smokey enclaves

to share storied fatherland memories,
while the women gathered in her kitchen
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.

Her enameled kitchen table, an assembly line
of dough, tools, bowls of rich concoctions,
filled with reflections of final farm harvests.
For days, they rolled floured, filled and pinched,
boiled, browned and layered.

We children sat at the floor, eye level to legs
in a corner of the steamy kitchen,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.

The night of Vigil Eve flowed with prayers and feasting,
as full families gathered at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
to sing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.

They sang of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.

Generations of voices in harmony
drifted through the lace-curtained windows
opened to the cold winter night, the night
when animals talked, wishes were granted,
and ancient rituals forged the bonds of blood.

———–

Heart of Rom
(an earlier version published in The Berkshire Review, Volume 4, 1996)

Cyganka! My grandmother scolds,
as I bound off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.

Gypsy. Even the word brings blood
blood rushing to the pit of my stomach.
How I wish for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for a power ancient as the land,
the sweep of continents
and countless untamed hearts.

She ruled us with her will,
that Polish grandmother –
a small strong-handed woman
with a voice of faith-forged mettle
and a back turned straight against
truths too bold to hold.

Yet, they tell me once, as I lay young and dying,
she revealed her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups, vials of spirits, leeches,
while my mother watched from shadows
fighting demons with her eyes.

They tell me, when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commented on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
the scattering of blood marks along the back
like ancient glyphs on altar stone.

an old poem

Every once in a while, I scroll through this blog, re-reading stuff I wrote and forgot. Today I found this short poem.

Some say the world will end in fire,
a sudden spike of life and then the glory.

But for her, it was a slow fall into
the cold of oblivion, the bones of her face
sharding like ice, her fingers blue crystals
clutching frigid white sheets,
sliding toward the final winding.

Had my mother lived, she would have been 99 this month. But it’s good that she didn’t, given her severe dementia at 94. A longer poem I wrote about that has been accepted by Caregiver magazine.

Those Christmas Cookies

My cousins in downstate New York are all ready for Christmas with their cookies, posting photos and recipes on Facebook and making me feel inadequate as a grandmother.

My mother started baking after Thanksgiving and didn’t finish until the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, after all, was always the extended-family gathering at my own grandmother’s for the Polish Wigilia, a meatless night of eating and drinking and singing “Koledy,” Polish Christmas Carols.

When I moved away decades ago, I drifted away from those traditions, and, not really being into housewifery, I didn’t get into the baking, either.

One of my mother’s specialties was “pizzelles,” which are of Italian origin, but that didn’t stop my mother. She got the recipe from her Italian sister-in-law and each year gave everyone in the family a batch of her homemade pizzelles — which are made on a kind of waffle iron and which take an awful lot of time to make. You have to pour each one separately and then stand there while the hot gadget bakes them. Then you have to remove each one separately and set them carefully aside to cool and harden.

One of the few things I took for myself after my mother passed away was her pizzelle maker, and this year I unearthed it from the cellar, cleaned it up, googled a recipe, and made a batch that I will take to my daughter’s in-laws on Christmas Day.

I found that I actually enjoyed making them — something about the meditative calm of the repetitive task, the memory of my mother humming softly while she poured, clamped, waited, opened, and gently removed her perfectly round and patterned pizzelles.

Mine are not so round or so perfectly patterned, but it was my first try.

My mother always bought — rather than made — one kind of pastry for the holidays. She called them “bow ties” and got them especially for my son, who loved them. They are really Jewish “egg kichel,” and this year I ordered some from Etsy and sent them to my son in Portland OR in memory of my mom. He said that they were just as good as he remembered.

I don’t have many Christmas traditions (especially since I don’t really celebrate the religious holiday) but I think I will make making my mom’s pizzelles one of them from now on.

Mag #242

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Go here to read what other writers have written in response to this prompt.

mother

If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,

Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.

But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
trapped in the tangle
of a cord never cut.

There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.

adventures in living in a home/school

Most people have a general idea of what home schooling is. What they don’t realize that there are infinite variations of how to go about teaching your kids at home.

My 12 year old grandson is home schooled and has always been. I live with him and his family, and so I am usually right in the middle of it all. My daughter is the facilitator — and that’s what she is, more than a traditional “teacher,” (although sometimes she does play that role). She has chosen not to work at an outside job, so home schooling has become her passion, and she is involved in the regional home schooling community.

Learning here is part of living, and most of the time my grandson learns all of the basic skills, as well as research, communication, ethics, history, civic responsibility etc. etc. as part of some interdisciplinary project in which he becomes involved because he has expressed an interest in it.

The computer is right next to the dining table, and when some question comes up in conversation at a meal, he can turn around and research the answer. He has become very proficient at using the computer to further his learning, either by using actual programs that my daughter has downloaded or by researching and creating his own base of information.

Television also plays a big part in his learning. From Mythbusters to Pawn Stars to documentaries on the History and National Geographic channels, he absorbs information like a sponge.

As an involved observer, there is so much I can write about the processes and the products of home schooling. But what prompts me today is his latest project: pygmy goats and can we have them here as pets.

This interdisciplinary project has just begun and will last until spring, when we will make a decision whether or not we can and will actually get a goat or two. Or three.

In the meanwhile, he has been emailing back and forth with the local zoning office and reading online abut the care and use of goats and how they might be used as a source of income (weeding vacant lots in place of having them mowed). He has ordered a book about the care and feeding of pygmy goats. Over the next several months, there will be visits to places that sell pygmy goats and conversations with the folks who raise them. There will be exercises in figuring out how much land they would need and how to provide for their shelter. These exercises will include a lot of math for measuring as well as for finances.

My role as “grandmother-in-residence” is to listen, encourage, ask questions, and share in the excitement of discovery and adventure. Not at all a bad way to spend part of my retirement time and energy. And, actually, pygmy goats, as their popularity on youtube has proven, are fun to have around. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

slowly growing garden bounty

This year, the family planted an almond tree and a cherry tree. The fruit trees planted in previous years are becoming laden with young edibles. One tomato has shown up, and the bird house is filled to capacity. A little bit of paradise, here.

gardenbounty

columnar apples












peaches











first tomato












occupied bird house.






We don’t have an extra big yard; it’s just a regular house lot. But the family makes the most of it. Such is suburban farming.

The Stubborn Roots of God-ism

OK. This is a rant. Not about religious fanatics or extremists. It’s about reasonably intelligent and educated people who don’t take the time or make the effort to examine and understand the difference between freedom to practice a religion (or not) and the separation of church and state.

It’s all there, folks, in the Bill of Rights and Constitution. There’s no mention of god. There is only the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a national religion.

How much more clear can that be.

But there’s something about people who are devoted to their religion and their version of god that makes them want to insist that it’s a universal truth. It seems to have something to do with the brain and the stubborn roots of god-ism.

Our research team at the University of Pennsylvania has consistently demonstrated that God is part of our consciousness and that the more you think about God, the more you will alter the neural circuitry in specific parts of your brain.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Even those many who believe in the freedom to practice the religion of your choice only seem to go along with that as long as that all-powerful god is part of the equation.

As a secular humanist, all of that is irrelevant to me until they insist that, somehow, America belongs to that god, that in god we must trust, that god blesses America.

I don’t know how to educate such folks. I think the roots of god-ism that religions infuse into the brains of thinking people take such a strong hold in the temporal lobe that it can’t be budged by logic or facts.

The wonderful thing about the internet, and the dangerous thing about the internet, is that once you have put something out there, it pretty much stays there (unless, of course, you cite some researched document that gets eventually pulled from its server.)

A FaceBook discourse that I have been having with my religious family members is out there but is not being accessed in my timeline. From their end, there is a lot of “one nation, under God,” and “In God We Trust”, and offers to send me reading material. They obviously don’t read what I have written in my comments. (“Don’t confuse me with facts; I know what I believe.”)

From my end is what, I think, are cogent explanations the position of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, along with links to more highly developed sources than I.

Since they are not being shared on FaceBook, I am sharing them here. Because I can. Because this is a crucial educational discussion. Because I’m scared to death that such well-meaning (but un-informed) folks will rise to the majority and destroy the foundations of My Blue America.

So, I am herewith repeating my comments to their god-ist urgings. Because I can and because I don’t want to lose my links and arguments. You can tell from my responses what they must have commented. These are my responses to a jpg of “One Nation Under God”:

— We need to go BACK to being one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, regardless of religious or secular beliefs. What matters is The Golden Rule.

— No, if I meant the commandments, I would have said so. The “under god” was inserted into the pledge in 1954 during the Cold War with Russia by a Congress afraid of “godless” communism. This country was founded on a separation of church and state by the wise men who thought it all out originally. I documented it all here, in a history lesson worth knowing about:

— Hey, whatever works for you, I get inspiration from my hummingbirds. But that has nothing to do with the way this country functions; it’s totally an individual thing, and American history informs how that is supposed to work. If you google “The Golden Rule” you will find that just about all religions have that as a basis, as does secular humanism. That gives us a common ground that does not require a belief in god to be good. And I respect your PERSONAL beliefs and lifestyle, but I think you do need a lesson in American history so that you don’t try to impose your version on the rest of this country — which pretty much is the definition of the kind of Sharia Law practiced in some Islamic countries.

— Absolutely. Informed discourse is crucial to the maintenance of a democracy. The problem arises, however, when an “opinion” gets legislated by those who have the power to impose that “opinion” on others who do not share that “opinion.”

— Christine, read my historical documentation. Religion/God and our government were separated right from the beginning. They were never meant to be combined, as they are in Muslim countries. It’s a historical FACT. And it is documented over and over again in what our founding fathers wrote and signed. The Pilgrims did not create the documents that are the laws of our land. And the Pilgrims are hardly good examples living by the Golden Rule. Again, read my researched piece — even though some of the links are so old that they have disappeared, but googling will unearth similar factual documentation.

The Mayflower Compact was a PRECURSOR to what became our Constitution. Because it stressed the “civic values of justice, equality, and responsibility,” the founding fathers built on those values BUT also recognized that the religious part of the document was not a good thing to impose. So they purposely did not include any of that in our Constitution of Bill of Rights. Nowhere in those documents is god mentioned, and I will link to that info in the next comment.

— Excellent piece by PBS:
God In America – People – God and the Constitution

— Ladies, it’s never to late to learn the truth: Quote from the above piece: With Madison’s guidance, the First Congress approved the First Amendment to the Constitution that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The amendment applied only to the federal government, not to the states. Some states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, continued to use taxpayer money to support established churches. In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to end such support. [I guess, according to the law, maybe you could establish your own state and have your own state religion. And I guess that would apply to Buddhists, Muslims, etc. But then, that’s not what America is about, is it?]

— Well, then, you you really don’t understand what this country is about. And let me clarify my position on religion, in general. If it works for you to help you be a good person, fine. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us can be good without god. That’s a different issue from separation of church and state in America. America is not a country founded on “god” or his/her laws. It’s a country founded on secular human values (which, in truth, are shared by all religions). So, Trust in God all you want if that helps get you through the day. But that trust and belief is irrelevant to the laws of our land, despite what you would like to believe.

I am frustrated by the refusal of smart people to accept that they might be wrong about separation of church and state in America. It has to be the result of those stubborn roots of god-ism and the way the brain works. Science will tell.